- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Child-maltreatment rates in the United States remained stable in 2003, with a little more than 900,000 substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect, federal data show.

However, the number of child fatalities caused by maltreatment rose to 1,500 — the fourth consecutive year that figure has increased — raising concerns about whether these numbers reflect more deaths because of abuse or neglect or more accurate reporting of these incidents.

More medical professionals might be classifying a child’s death as maltreatment, said Richard Wertheimer, vice president of Child Trends, a research group that tracks data on child well-being.

Both media and medical groups have been raising awareness about child abuse for years, he said. As a result, a doctor might write “child maltreatment” instead of “head trauma” as the cause of death.

It also may be that “you’re looking at more stressors in people’s lives — and simply more incidents where there is abuse and neglect that results in the death of a child,” said Shay Bilchik, president and chief executive of Child Welfare League of America.

Fifteen hundred deaths “really is a startling number,” he said. It points to the need for more effective child welfare responses as well as more prevention programs that can work with families at risk for abuse.

The “2003 Child Maltreatment” report is based on data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, which is operated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. The report was released yesterday as part of children and families administration’s 15th national conference on child abuse and neglect.

In 2003, state child protective services reported 2.9 million reports of neglect or abuse, of which 906,000 were substantiated. The 2003 “victimization rate” of 12.4 victims per 1,000 U.S. children is comparable to those of previous years.

About 63 percent of child victims suffered neglect, 19 percent were abused physically, and 10 percent were abused sexually. Infants and toddlers had the highest victimization rates.

Eighty percent of abusers were parents. Women were more likely than men to maltreat children, 58 percent to 42 percent, respectively.

The new maltreatment report includes data on the most tragic consequence of maltreatment: the death of a child.

At least 1,000 children have died of abuse or neglect every year since 1986, according to figures published in the House Ways and Means Committee’s “Green Book.”

The new maltreatment report shows that the number of child fatalities has grown from 1,100 in 1999 to 1,500 in 2003. Almost 79 percent of these deaths occurred before a child’s third birthday.

Mothers acting alone were involved in 31 percent of these fatalities. Both parents were involved in 20 percent of deaths; 18 percent of deaths were caused by fathers alone.

Neglect caused 36 percent of deaths, followed by physical abuse (28 percent) and multiple kinds of maltreatment (29 percent).

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